… to my wonderful Mom.
click to enlarge
Sending birthday hugs to the best brother a guy could wish for. And a poem.
Such a lovely autumn.
We have the orchards
when the clouds are parted;
the stars we pass to
hand to hand,
as if they were warm.
Stars in my mother’s arms,
brother’s eyes, father’s
voice and resting on
the painted water where I
sleep; shining through
the music of my life:
the adagio of any day at dawn.
Stars, eyes, eyelids
shut against the heat
and stroke of time,
smoke and death,
or just the sea
and its terrible salt.
Stars melt, years pass,
as magic lanterns
reflect the firmament
of stars in an endless row
of nights; weeping, shining
in the orbits of our days.
Shine by Kyle Kimberlin
is Creative Commons Licensed.
“What time is it?”
Taking one hand from the wheel, he started to push back the sleeve of his jacket to see his watch, then stopped. He glanced over at her. She sat looking out her window through the rain, at the trees.
“There’s a clock on the dashboard in front of you.”
“Is it right?”
“So you won’t tell me?”
“What’s the use of having a clock in the car, if you always ask me anyway?” But now he did push back his sleeve and look. “The clock on the dash says the world is one minute older than the watch on my wrist. So I’m going with the clock. I’m feeling pretty old right now.”
She frowned and watched the trees, a dark wall and a dark road, a grim and rainy day. She did not look at him, or care about the time. It was only something to say, some excuse to conjure his voice out of the distance between them. It was a good voice, solid and deep, a comfort so often, and always in the dead of night. Sometimes she lay awake and whispered I love you, and he would answer in that voice, without waking. Love you too.
As they passed the end of the orchard, a field opened up. It was fallow, the earth broken and turned. Far back from the road was a brick house and a barn. The house was brightly lit, and smoke rose from the chimney. It was a stranger’s life sitting quietly surrounded by death, waiting to be swallowed by time and rain. She could not wait to get home, turn on lights and music, make tea, and pretend, like that house pretended, that the world was safe.
“I hate myself for leaving him there.”
He checked the mirror and said, “It’s a nice place.”
She turned at looked at him. “Nice? I hate us both.”
“Now, now. Yes, it’s a decent place, as …”
“And he hates us too.”
“… as such places go. Pleasant and homey.”
“He’ll come around. It’s very nice. He’ll get used to it, make friends, have activities. You saw they have a piano in the recreation room. And the courtyard will be warm on sunny days. We’ll visit and take him outside. He’ll be fine in no time.”
“He’s never yelled at us like that. Never at anyone, that I can remember. So angry. Like we’re Eskimos, shoving him out on an ice flow.”
“We’ve been over this. Can you really pretend we’ve been thoughtless?”
“Do they even do that, did they ever?”
“I don’t know.”
“He said we’re going to hell.”
“Oh God. Everyone is on their way someplace, but not there. And we’re only doing our best.”
“No. We could do better. We should bring him back. Fix up the spare bedroom.”
“Rent one of those hospital beds. I could take care of him, I know it. I could quit my job, we’d get by.”
“You couldn’t. You can’t even lift him. Neither can I.”
They passed the end of a narrow road that broke the blur of idle land and disappeared toward the hills. She saw that her hands were resting on her lap palms up, waiting to be filled by something only God could design.
“You know him better than me.”
“Yes,” he said.
“Since the hour of your birth.”
“So I hope you’re right. But he’s already haunting me.”
There was another line of trees close against the road. Almonds, dark and full of rain.
Passing Trees by Kyle Kimberlin
is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution
-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
For Fathers Day, we need a beautiful poem about fatherhood. I considered sending you forth to read Roethke’s My Papa’s Waltz, but it goes without saying, don’t you think?
Instead, The Gift, by Li-Young Lee. And here’s a sip to wet your whistle:
I can’t remember the tale,
but hear his voice still, a well
of dark water, a prayer.
And I recall his hands,
two measures of tenderness
he laid against my face
I’ve been working on taking a large part of my novel in process and rewriting it in the voice and point of view of my subject family’s patriarch. I mean the grandfather of the family. His point of view, the history of suffering and God-mandated hard work and the planting of trees so that others might benefit from shade, is the most interesting of the voices in my head lately.
I’ll give you a sample in a moment. First, to the subject line of this post. I don’t mean the founders of America. I mean the founders of our families. Our grandparents and parents; our tree of the knowledge of love and sacrifice.
An hour ago, I turned on The Daily Show and watched John Stewart begin his nightly diatribe on the topic of impending national doom. I saw the president speak in a way that could only serve to feed our unremitting anxiety. I turned it off. It was making me sad and sick at heart. And I thought to myself it is a merciful God who has given so many Americans full and productive lives of building a nation of dreams, but took them to Himself before they saw such a day of purblind governmental stupidity. It’s too bad that so many more – who’ve worked just as hard – are forced to see it now.
I believe my grandparents would be outraged and ashamed that Washington has driven us to this point. And that our leaders are willing to leap from behind the wheel and watch the whole thing just go rolling over a cliff. For nothing but asinine and petty politics. I believe they would feel their sacrifices – those of their generation including the dead and bereaved of many wars – have been entirely betrayed.
What the hell happened to Yes We Can? How did We The People so completely screw up the simple yet desperately difficult task of voting for responsible people that now we have no one in government with the sense God gave a block of wood? There is nobody in the capital city able to stand up and say We are going to make this right, do the next right thing, at the very least the job we were hired to do. Don’t worry, we are competent and the system works. Nope, every last one of them regardless of party are determined to prove the opposite, that they are worthless and unworthy, corrupt and incompetent.
I am reminded of a line from the series Deadwood, in which the character Wolcott says:
I am a sinner who does not expect forgiveness, but I am not a government official.
Anyway, here’s some Grandpa. From two different sections of text. He’s not my Grandpa or yours, but maybe we can find some truth in him.
I brought my family west in 1942. We dragged up and rolled out of Joplin following a trail of postcards sent by a cousin on my wife’s side, a witless unwashed little bastard who had come ahead in search of work. I tried to talk her out of it, said we had friends and kin and possibilities and the Lord seemed pleased to see us grow where we were planted, but she would not be diverted. Those postcards were full of promises and hope. California was a land of unlimited harvest, he said, where for practically nothing a man could claim a piece of land as wide and rich as his dreams, and have no one to argue with but the bees.
I remember how that long damn road across New Mexico went on and on like the devil himself had laid it with a taut line leading west out of Texas into hell. We had a pickup truck, a 1937 Chevrolet with no air in it and not much air outside either. We dragged a little two wheel trailer behind us for our possibles, making six wheels in all and between there and here every tire blew out or ran flat more than once.
When I came out of the bank they were waiting for me in the little park across the street and up the block. The sun had filled the day with shining. I had my old leather valise in my hand and the papers were in it. I put it against my chest and gave it a pat for good luck because it held the instrument of all our hopes. Standing on the corner, I could see them up the street, my family. They were waiting in the little plaza. John was hanging like a monkey on the muzzle of the antique Army gun, swinging like it was made to be a toy and not a relic of death from the Mexican war. Lillian was sitting on a bench watching him play, holding our baby. I saw how small they looked compared to the buildings, the trees and the California sky. But I felt pretty small myself, in relation to the contract I had signed. Small against the work we’d have to do to pay the note, to coax good fruit from serious and stoic trees. But the grass was green in the little park and the flag on the pole next to the canon was earnest, and the sky was very blue. The little town of Cortina – our new home – sat around us faintly humming with the engine of people in an early summer afternoon. We were strangers here entirely, but with many friends we just hadn’t met yet. And a loan had been made to me in good faith. So in my mind – to very young Jim Geister, far from home and his people – anything was probable and everything was good.
Robert Bly is one of my favorite poets. He has shared the top of my list since probably 1985. I love his poems. I love his delivery. I cherish his sanity. It is so with all of those who inform our lives.
Have we agreed to so many wars that we can’t
Escape from silence?
Watch and listen to this.
What is it about the ones whose lives are meaningful to us? What do they have that we need, and need to emulate? I propose that we are seeking clarity, a sense of our place and time, perhaps a tesseract to who we’ll be and to those who’ve raised us up.
I’ve always loved the first sentence in the anonymous book, The Way of a Pilgrim. “I am by the grace of God a Christian man, by my acts a great sinner.” That’s clarity.
My grandfather used to tell me, “stay in the boat,” and that was clarity.
John F. Kennedy said,
We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.
The passage of a half century has turned that inside out. It’s not that the government is afraid to let us see the truth. It’s that the people are afraid to face it. We are a nation afraid of each other, not to even mention everybody else. We are afraid of the religions of our neighbors. And fear is not the opposite of courage. Indifference is the opposite of courage. Fear is the opposite of clarity, of truth, of sanity.
I am a Christian, not afraid of Muslims, or Jews, Buddhists, or Hindi. I love them and wish them peace. I’m not even afraid of the Westboro Baptist Church, though it makes me sick and I promise you it is no real church at all. I know this by a simple shibboleth: there is nothing in what they do or say that points toward Christ.
This week we have, many of us, been fixated on the personal implosion of a man who has lost his mind. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of this group of audacious lunatics, whose greatest and most ardently held tenet of faith is that they’ve figured out who and what God hates. Those people are insane. They have forgotten the face of love.
There are two things I know about God. First, that there is a God and I’m not Him. Second, that God is love.
With that I invite you, gentle reader, to join me in a search for simple clarity, whatever it looks like to you. Let’s choose one word, then another, and put them in their order. Let’s remember the faces of our loved ones, thankful that someone held our hand when we cried, hopeful for someone to do it again when we die. Because another favorite poet, William Stafford, had this moment of clarity:
Your good dogs, some things that they hear
they don’t really want you to know —
it’s too grim or ethereal.
And sometimes when they look in the fire
they see time going on and someone alone,
but they don’t say anything.
Today – February 3 – I’m sending out Happy Anniversary greetings – and a big I love you – to my Mom and Dad. It’s their 55th wedding anniversary. I love you guys.
I remember where I was on their 30th anniversary. I was sitting in my car on a trailhead on a high buff overlooking a canyon, with the lights of Chico far below. I was in college, working as a security guard, assigned to watch a weather station. I had my dinner in a brown bag, a thermos of coffee, flashlight, a couple of text books, and my notebook for poems.
I have spent these hours
in silence watching darkness
take this blue canyon
a little traffic
and the town lights
in the valley
A pair of mice eyes
like black seeds watched me
pass on a steep trail pushing
my little light to the end
of this road
I wonder what you’ve known
together what nights in quiet
canyons lights passing quickly
to rest in distant places
these thirty years
At sunset I saw a hawk
on a fence post far below
spread his wings and climb
beyond the light
– Kyle Kimberlin
from Finding Oakland © 1992
Have you ever listened to the soundtrack of the TV special A Charlie Brown Christmas? I don’t mean on the TV, while watching the show. (If you’re like me, you’ve watched it every year since the mid 1960s.) That’s good of course, but I downloaded the complete remastered album from iTunes recently. It is so much better unedited, the original full length songs.
I was making a DVD of family Christmas photos from the old days, and the music suited it well. I listened to the songs repeatedly, but not very carefully. Tonight I have the album on my iPod, just listening. This music is terrific. Clear, skillful jazz. If you like a good jazz trio, head over to the iTunes store and check it down. The album is only about 8 bucks.
What about the videos I made? Well, they’re on youtube, but they’re private. I have a hunch that publishing photos of my family in their Christmas morning PJs, hair uncombed, etc., would finally earn me that a—kicking I’ve so richly deserved for so long. Wouldn’t be prudent, is my point.